“A Corset of Arms”

Fiction by E.R. Fallon

    Some people are good liars. There is the kind of lying that is found deep in the blood; inherited lying. And then there is the kind of lying that is learned. I knew which type of liar Ed was as soon as he became my father.
    I was born to a different dad, Daddy Jack, who died when I was still sucking apple juice out of sippy cups. My mother, Beatrice, was this fashion house model back in the early 1960s with long, knobby limbs, sunken cheekbones and a permanent beehive hairdo, dating doo-wop singers and tanned male television actors with their hair slicked back with way too much pomade, who splashed on a lot of cologne and everything.
    Beatrice was semifamous back then, and gorgeous and desirable, and could have had any man she wanted and all of that. She chose my father, Jack, who came from old New England money, and who spoke with a Cary Grant inflection and was cheap with his money but good looking in a classic movie star dark and handsome sort of way, like Montgomery Clift.
    After Jack died Beatrice married Ed. This was the Manhattan of the 1980s. Ed worked on Wall Street and wore ten-grand pin-striped suits with suspenders, patent leather shoes and a hot red tie. And because Jack did not leave Beatrice with as much money as she would have desired, she homed in on Ed, marrying him one month after they first met.
    I believe that I was the first one to discover Ed was a pretender. I was 11 years old, an uninterested parochial school student who would shimmy out of my 9:30 math class with the bathroom pass and not come back for the rest of the day. Although Beatrice was spoiled in every way imaginable, with her winter coats made of the fluffy white fur of dead animals and her lovely, heavily moisturized porcelain skin decorated with rings, necklace, bracelet, and earrings of teardrop diamonds, no matter the season, she still worked full time, though I don’t know if one could really call being an unpaid volunteer who answered the pulsating telephones of the Democratic mayoral campaign office an actual profession.
    One day when Beatrice was at the campaign headquarters, I came home and found a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill on the top of the coffee table. I picked up the tight coil and twirled it between two fingers. A white dust sprinkled out. I knelt down on the shiny, newly waxed hardwood floor and ran my forefinger gently across the scattering of powder. I put my finger to my lips and tasted. It wasn’t sugar or table salt.
    I spotted Daddy Ed, as Beatrice insisted I call him, out on the balcony, leaning against the railing and looking down at the traffic below while the drivers of yellow taxicabs tooted their horns. Ed seemed to smile at their impatience. He was smoking one of his unfiltered cigarettes and sipping a glass of amber liquid with two perfectly shaped ice cubes: Scotch — Ed always had a craving for it and said it slaked his thirst.
    I went outdoors and said, “Daddy Ed.”
    Unlike Jack, Daddy Ed wasn’t cinema star handsome, rather he was a little round man with a receding hairline, who walked with his feet turned slightly outward like a penguin. Ed was short-fused and became irritated over the small irregularities that life often presents, such as fellow patrons laughing too loudly in restaurants you are dining in, arriving early for a musical theater performance and already having pre-purchased tickets, only having to wait in line to get inside anyway. And due to life’s little annoyances, Daddy Ed was continuously red in the face, forever seeming like he was in the middle of moving his bowels. When in truth he wasn’t partial to patience when it came to bodily functions either; it is a fact he took six fiber capsules daily.
    Ed turned around. “Long time no see, kiddo.”
    “What’s with the white powder?” I asked.
    “Huh?”
    “The stuff on the coffee table.”
    “Oh, just a little cure for my stomachache.”
    “You used a mortal and pestle to grind up a couple of Tums?”
    “Yeah,” Ed said, chuckling. “Something like that. Say, kid, why don’t you go and fix me another drink?” He added “Please” for extra appearances after I wouldn’t budge.
    The truth was I didn’t hate Daddy Ed. Quite the contrary, in fact. I liked him. I liked him almost as much as I had liked Daddy Jack. And Ed was easier with his money than Jack had been. Ed took me to F.A.O. Schwarz one weekend each month and bought me gigantic teddy bears. And when I hugged the stuffed bears I enjoyed wrapping my arms tightly around their middles, clinching their fluff inward like a corset made of my arms.
    I fixed Ed his drink at Beatrice’s wet bar, handing it to him with a little navy blue bar napkin underneath the glass.
    “You’re a doll, kiddo,” Ed said.
    “How about taking me to the toy store this weekend, kiddo?” I asked.
    Ed laughed his big, full-bodied laugh you couldn’t help but love. “Maybe I will.”
    “You know, Beatrice might not find out about the white powder if you do take me.”
    “And if I don’t?”
    I shrugged.
    “You’ll tell her?”
    I thought about it for a moment, and then I said, “She’s my mother; we share everything.”
    “I thought you didn’t care for her.”
    “I’m about to enter adolescence; I’m prone to mood swings.”
    “Well, I work both days this weekend, but on Sunday morning if you get up early I can take you. It has to be early, though, so if you aren’t up by 8, we aren’t going. What time does the place open?”
    I had insisted that I study the glass storefront for a full minute each time before we stepped inside, and had consequently memorized the shop’s hours by heart. Up until then I didn’t realize Ed knew this. I had assumed he was leering at the pretty women behind us, wearing skirts and pumps, bustling to and fro on the sidewalk.
    “They open at 9 on Sunday,” I said.
    Daddy Ed patted my shoulder. “That’s a girl. Sunday it is.”
    He reached into his jacket pocket and took out his horn-rimmed spectacles. When my mother first started seeing Ed, I made fun of these eyeglasses to her and she had laughed. The way she laughed — so loudly — caused me to wonder if she really did care for Daddy Ed at all.
    “I’ve got to go back to the office now. Shouldn’t you be in school or something?”
    “There isn’t any school today.”
    “Catholic holiday?” Ed said. He was an Episcopalian, the same as Jack. Beatrice and I were the Catholics and I was only one because she was one and she had wanted me to be one too.
    I nodded.
    “What’s it called?”
     “The day of Judas,” I said, making it up on the spot.
    “Oh, I’ve heard of him. He was the traitor, right?”
    “Yes, Judas, he was the betrayer.”
    “He was a good liar,” Ed said.
    “What do you mean?”
    “He made people assume that he was honest.”
    “But he wasn’t.”
    “Exactly. I ought to run now, Molly. How about taking this glass inside for me and rinsing it?” He handed the glass to me and he didn’t even have to bend down to my height; we were nearly the same height.
    When Beatrice came home that afternoon, her arms teemed with a bounty of clothing shop boxes bearing the names of outré fashion designer men in plump strands of connecting cursive letters.
    “How was school, darling?” she asked me.
    “Quite well, thank you. How was the workplace?” I assisted her in taking off her balmacaan coat and kid gloves and set them down on the end table near the coat stand for her.
    “Dreadfully busy. The telephones do keep ringing, you know.”
    “Say, isn’t that why you’re there? To answer the phones?”
    She eyed me suspiciously but didn’t say anything else. And then she said, “Molly, how would you like to live in a house?”
    “An entire house?”
    “Yes, not an apartment.”
    In Manhattan, having a whole house to yourself was rare. A house was stirring. However, I proceeded cautiously.        “Would this be in Manhattan?”
    “Of course,” Beatrice said, as if there weren’t any other boroughs in the city.
    I continued to cross-examine her. “Which neighborhood?”
    “Close to here. Fifth Avenue, actually; East 83rd, You would even have to walk a shorter distance to school in the morning. You could sleep in later,” she said, leaning downward and stroking my cheek with her bony finger.
    “Living close to school has its disadvantages as well,” I said.
    She seemed amused and placed her hands on her slim hips. “Oh, really? Like what? Being able to oversleep and thereby developing bad morning habits for the rest of your life?”
    I was thinking more along the lines of if I, say, sneaked out of class with the lavatory pass, walked home, and then once I arrived home if I had a hankering to hurtle down to Serendipity for a sundae, or an aspiration to ride the aboveground tramway out to Roosevelt Island for an adventure, or a desire to careen to the Guggenheim. I could easily be spotted by some teacher, principal, assistant principal, or gym instructor on their lunch break; or even worse, a snooty classmate who was leaving early for a doctor’s appointment and would head back to school next day and tattle. I couldn’t express these worries to Beatrice, so I merely said, “Bad habits; yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking.”
    She smiled warmly, like I was too darn cute for my own good sometimes. I decided immediately that I was a damn good liar.
    Daddy Ed took me to F.A.O. Schwarz that Sunday, as promised. This time he procured me two stuffed teddy bears instead of one. I put an arm around each of them at the same time and squeezed as hard as I could, suffocating the life out of those silly bears. Before I did so, I had looked deeply into their plastic eyes to make certain they weren’t alive; those eyes gazed back at me with a pool of black vacuity.
    The trip was the last one Daddy Ed and I took to the toy store. I caught him with the rolled-up bills and the white powder that sprinkled out of them many more times, and I went right up to him and confronted him about it. I asked him to take me to the toy shop or I’d tell Beatrice what I found, but he would only tell me he was tired and didn’t have time for “this shit,” or that he didn’t “give a shit,” and then he shooed me away with a wave of his hand.
    And I told Beatrice because I was annoyed with Ed and straightaway she rummaged madly though his wardrobe’s drawers in their bedroom and the pockets of the suits on his side of the huge walk-in closet. She found some of the white powder in tiny plastic bags and yelled a lot. She wasn’t yelling at Ed or me or anybody really, just screaming nonsense and blasphemies to our apartment’s high-vaulted ceiling.
    She thrust Daddy Ed’s belongings into boxes and bins and moved them outside into the hallway. I asked her if we were moving already and she said that we weren’t; but that Ed was, and thanks to Ed we wouldn’t be moving into that address on Fifth Avenue anytime soon because Ed had spent nearly all of their savings on something called “coke,” which I figured wasn’t the refreshment that I loved to drink with dinner.
    Ed rang the doorbell. I hurried toward the door and opened it before Beatrice had an opportunity to close the safety latch. He was wearing jeans; it was the first time I had seen him in jeans.
    “Hey, kiddo,” he said.
    “Hello, Ed.” I figured I didn’t have to call him Daddy anymore since Beatrice was giving him the boot.
    We each waited for the other to say something until finally he said, “Well, so long then.”
    “Goodbye.”
    “You take care of those bears now; save them until we can go purchase some new ones.”
    I grasped he was insincere and that there weren’t going to be any more trips to the store and the buying of new bears, at least with Ed, anyway. It was also probably the last time I would see him, but I didn’t snivel. Instead, I closed the door and went back to face Beatrice, who was standing in the living room with a sour look on her face.
    “I told you not to talk to him. Don’t you ever talk to that man again.”
    I heard Ed dragging and kicking the boxes along the carpeted corridor.
    “Shit,” he roared. “Shit, shit, shit.”
    I imagined he was quite red in the face.

    E.R. Fallon, a former Southampton College student, is a young writer whose short stories, memoirs, and poems have been published in online and print literary magazines. She is seeking a publisher for her novel, “Where She Was, Was My Heart,” a bildungsroman.

Comments

A jewel of a story. Obviously an up and coming writer.